Police asked the owner of a cherry factory to show them the walls behind his office. He agreed, pointed them in the right direction, and said that he’d be right there. Just as they discovered the secret room, they heard a loud “boom.”
Arthur Mondella, the 57-year-old owner of Dell’s Maraschino Cherries, reportedly shot himself dead in his Brooklyn, New York, factory after police uncovered a secret hidden drug lab behind the walls of his office. Investigators from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office were on the premises to investigate an environmental issue, questioning the owner, when they smelled marijuana. That’s when things took the shocking turn.
Initially armed with an administrative search warrant, investigators from the DA’s Office broadened their investigation in light of the marijuana odor. They were joined by investigators from the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation, and city Department of Environmental Protection.
Originally seeking to find out whether Dell’s Maraschino Cherries was illegally dumping potentially hazardous materials and chemicals they used to process the cherries into the sewer system, crews were seen looking underground as part of the investigation. However, their interests would soon turn towards an odor that they had noticed and a room that Mondella didn’t want them to enter.
Owner Arthur Mondella had been cooperating with the investigation but reportedly told police that he didn’t want them to search behind a wall in his office that led into a secret room, according to Daily Mail. However, when it became clear that police, who had smelled marijuana somewhere in the building and were asking about it, were suspicious of the secret room, he allegedly excused himself to go to the bathroom.
After walking off alone, Mondella reportedly shot himself dead with a .357 magnum handgun. CBS News reports that, prior to killing himself, Mondella allegedly shouted to his sister, who was also at the factory, telling her, “Take care of my kids.” That’s when a single gunshot was heard. Mondella was later pronounced dead from the self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The investigators had originally planned to look into suspicions they had about whether Dell’s Maraschino Cherries was illegally dumping hazardous materials and chemicals used to process the cherries into the sewer system. However, when they pushed through the office’s secret door, they reportedly discovered a drug lab behind the walls.
Sources say authorities found 80 pounds of marijuana and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash hidden in the secret room. They also reportedly found tarp-covered vintage cars parked in a back lot. Neighbors of the warehouse were shocked since they thought Dell’s Maraschino Cherries was just a normal family business.
“It’s said. It’s very sad,” said Joe Morrine, who owns neighboring Ferris Street business Recycled Brooklyn. “So I don’t know. My heart goes out to their family.” Morrine never suspected that the warehouse might contain a possible drug operation. “It doesn’t make sense that it would be a front; I mean, they’re a legitimate business. They’ve been around for a long time,” Morrine explained. “Just a normal business operating; you know, lots of forklifts moving things in and out; nice people.”
According to Dell’s website, which describes the company as “founded on family values, traditions and a passion for cherries,” it has been in business since 1948, and Arthur Mondella’s sudden death and the surrounding scandal don’t seem to be changing that any time soon.
“Dell’s Maraschino Cherries is now a ‘Women Owned Business’ under the leadership of his daughters Dominique Mondella and Dana Mondella Bentz,” the company website further explains. “Inspired by four generations of family ownership, Dell’s Maraschino Cherries is still guided by the same family values, traditions and their passion for cherries that started over six decades ago.” I guess every family has its secrets, even those who claim to stick to family values and who successfully build a booming business — no pun intended.